In last November’s National Draft, only three Indigenous players were selected to clubs. Josh Simpson, Byron Sumner and Bradley Hartman added their names to the exclusive fraternity that has been responsible for so many hours of highlight reel in AFL history.
The stark drop in the number of drafted Aboriginal players has led some to question the commitment of young Indigenous footballers. The story of Dayle Garlett is a cautionary one – the young man considered a prodigious talent out of Western Australia who slid further and further down the draft order as club after club deemed his behavioural issues too problematic.
Matt Rendell was battered from pillar to post for suggesting that clubs wouldn’t draft an Aboriginal player. Michael O’Loughlin laughed off the idea, stating that, generally, “Clubs will take the best player available – whether they’re black, white, blue or green.”
No matter your position on the issue, last night’s Indigenous All Stars game, during which the AFL’s best Aboriginal players tackled Richmond at a well-attended Tregear Park in Alice Springs, should alleviate your fears.
The Indigenous All Stars handed the Tigers their first loss of the season, a 50-point thumping. Interestingly, the All Stars leading the charge weren’t the names one would expect. No Lance Franklin, no Cyril Rioli, no Adam Goodes and no Daniel Wells – Graham Johncock and Nathan Lovett-Murray were the two oldest players in the squad at 30 years apiece.
Granted, Richmond was missing superstars Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Brett Deledio, but this is a poor excuse for a side that was largely dominated by the young All Stars from the outset.
Harley Bennell, the Gold Coast Suns’ product, won the Polly Farmer medal for best afield in a tantalising display. Young Bulldogs key forward Liam Jones showed his intent with two eye-catching contested marks and goals early in the piece before playing in defence, while North Melbourne’s Lindsay Thomas and Carlton’s Eddie Betts caused headaches for the Richmond defence. Adelaide’s Graham Johncock showed his skill around goal, kicking four majors.
It appears as though Patrick Ryder is ready to display his potential while Aaron Davey showed why he is never one to be written off coming off the half-back flank at Melbourne. Perhaps the biggest surprise coming from the game was Giants youngster Gerard Ugle, who moved the football with skill and poise beyond his years.
For the Tigers, it was largely a night to forget. Dustin Martin and Luke McGuane held the fort while youngster Nick Vlastuin continued in the AFL where he left off in the TAC Cup, throwing himself into every contest with reckless abandon.
Orren Stephenson was monstered by Ryder while ex-North Melbourne forward Aaron Edwards was less than inspiring in his first hitout for his new club. Ball movement by the Richmond midfield was well under par and gave its supporters nothing to write home about.
While Indigenous players have given us some of the most exciting passages of play in memory, the recent trend of decreasing numbers of Aboriginal youth being selected to play for AFL clubs may have been cause for concern. During the game, a squad of the AFL’s best Indigenous players, including 13 under the age of 22, dispatched those fears for good. There is no shortage of Indigenous talent in the AFL, despite what the draft may say.